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Birth

They gathered first in the colic of her morning
To hear the gasped breaths of her forced life giving,
Yawping like some heaving epitaph.
Since then the gifts returned in yearly mourning—
A dark tradition reminding her of the
Sick, metal room that first received her
And her placenta-gargled birth screams.

Her beginning, a torture, an uninvited push
Hurling her toward the ever-deepening doom
With a speed fit for blurring nausea.
She clamped her lips around night’s mother teat
And took from it a want to fall into sleeping,
Umbilical tied to earth. But there is no rest for
The world, old, sore, and mother weary with birth pangs.

Hanky Panky

It’s the night before my family’s biannual Big Gay Family Weekend, and I am admittedly looking for amusing anecdotes to share with the aunts and uncles and what have you. They only just started talking to me like a real person last year, and I still feel the need to make a good impression after all the time my dads spent dangling me over their heads. Out of all the queer folks—most of whom aren’t connected by anything but their complete lack of heterosexuality—that make up my family, my dads are the only pair to acquire a child so far. It was kind of a big deal back when I was a baby. Not so much anymore, which is why I now have to work for anything more in-depth than inane questions about school and my love life.

That’s beside the point, though. The point is, I just found something I shouldn’t have: a particular webpage that looks like it’s straight from the Dawn of the Web. It’s dominated by a multi-colored three by seventy-seven table on a white background, with a small block of Times New Roman text above. The three fields, from left to right, are as follows: COLOR, WORN ON LEFT, and WORN ON RIGHT. The subject is innocuous enough: handkerchiefs.

But the context. God. The context. All I can think of as I stare at a dark red row is that one time when I was six years old that I had tried desperately to get my dads to allow me to wear one of their wine-colored bandanas in my back pocket. The worst part isn’t that I had been desperately and unknowingly attempting to advertise myself as a “two-handed fist fuckee;” the worst part is that I hadn’t wanted to wear the thing on a whim. I had only wanted to emulate them—them being my loving parents.

My one dad, the one who wears his two-handed fist fuck bandana in his left pocket, chooses this exact moment to knock on my door.

“Hanky!” the calls—

“Spanky,” the word drops out of my mouth before I know what’s happening. Fuchsia is flashing behind my eyes. I clap my hand over my mouth and groan quietly.

He opens the door, “What was that?”

“Nothing,” I shut my laptop and turn to look someplace that isn’t his pocket. “What do you need?”

Either he doesn’t notice how shaken I am, or he pretends not to.         

“You should go to bed; we have a busy day tomorrow,” He leans out the doorway and calls something to my other dad.

I pretend not to notice that there actually is a fuchsia bandana in his back right pocket. That’s another kink on the list. “Yeah,” I say. Busy is right. Busy trying not to think about how spanking can lead into a rigorous fisting session, not to mention the veritable forest of bandanas I’m slated to encounter at the Big Gay Family Weekend. The last thing that I need to know at this point in my life is who has an eight-inch schlong, and who’s hosting an orgy.

It all makes sense now, why everyone found my fascination with the little squares of fabric so funny. Why my nickname is so funny. I stand up from my desk with as much dignity as I can muster and brush past my dad.

He pats me on the back.

“I know you’re not looking forward to getting up early, but you can sleep in the car.”

With that, he ducks away and wanders back downstairs, presumably to get spanked. Or maybe that won’t happen until they think I’m asleep. I hope it’s the latter, presuming that sleep will even come to me with this great knowledge bearing down on me.

The next morning finds me sullen in the backseat of Spanky Dad’s Jeep. It’s strange to me, that he would deign to own one, and that my other dad doesn’t hate it either. One would think that such a rugged vehicle goes against the aesthetic sensibilities of every gay man alive, and yet, here I am.

Spanky Dad knows how much it can cost to get a car serviced. Jeeps are the cheapest pieces of shit out there, he’s said on numerous occasions. Thinking about the car almost clears my mind—at least until I remember the flag stuck to the back right of it. It’s a neutral blue color, which I have on good authority means “copsucker.” It can’t only be for show; I’ve heard too many stories over the dinner table about being “pulled over” on the way home from work.

Yikes.

The ride is brief; this Big Gay Family Weekend is taking place at Uncle Kurt’s ranch. I can’t decide whether it’s a blessing or a curse that we only live fifteen minutes away. I decide curse when Latter Dad grabs Spanky Dad’s spanktastic bandana from his back pocket and playfully hits him with it.

I think, to protect me, my subconscious may have severely underrepresented the sheer volume of bandanas I would encounter. They were bursting from back pockets, bouncing around in my relatives’ individual wakes, as if taunting me with this terrible knowledge.

All the colors of the rainbow, and more.

Twenty-first Century Wergild

I rubbed the constricting chill from my limbs as Simon checked us in at Vincent’s Italian Restaurant. It was warm and cramped inside, but I only rubbed my sleeves more vigorously.

Noticing my irritation, Simon said, “I’m sure he won’t bring her.”

I scowled at him. “Oh, I’ve got a feeling he will.”

Simon sighed and said that he just wanted to get through dinner for his father’s sake. A young waiter led us to the table where Pop-Pop Clark Blythe drank wine with my brother-in-law, Chet, and a woman we had never seen before. My step faltered. I wanted to turn around for the ladies’ room, but Simon nudged me onward.

Pop-Pop stood with a chapped-lipped smile. His pepper hair was still thick as ever, but his skin felt thin as he embraced me. He patted my seven-month-old baby bump, stretching the olive and burgundy fabric of my dress.

“The little bundle of love’s getting bigger,” he teased.

“You look like Christmas come early.”

I kissed the old man’s cheek, wishing him a happy anniversary.

Chet shuffled forward. Of the two brothers, Chet was probably the better looking, and he knew it. He shared Simon’s emerald eyes and Pop-Pop’s hair and square face. He was once married to my best friend, Gabrielle. When I met Simon after college, I thought I was doing her a favor introducing her to Simon’s adventurous, younger brother. Chet liked to parasail, ski, and take Gabrielle to friends’ parties.

But then they married. Gabrielle settled down as a florist and hoped passive-aggressively for children, but Chet wouldn’t even leave her with that much when he took off with the car.

Now in the restaurant, I could’ve slapped him one, but I just nodded back after he hugged Simon and nodded to me.

Chet gestured to the woman behind him and said, “This is Freddie, my fiancé.”

My eyes felt like coal in a furnace. There on Freddie’s finger was the braided, silver band Gabrielle once wore. Freddie must’ve weighed 108 pounds. She wore a black, leather pencil skirt and a silk blouse. Her dark, styled hair and silver jewelry with violet gems reminded me of a French poodle. I raised my eyebrows at the Michael Kors purse on the table—I could only ever afford a fake one in New York City. This woman either had money or came from money.

Freddie gracefully extended her hand to Simon. “Chet talks a lot about you,” she said.

He smiled and shook her hand. I took my seat before she could reach over to me, my hand on my belly as an excuse.

I sat on the end next to a seat that Pop-Pop insisted remain empty.

“For the missus,” he said. Mrs. Blythe had been a cute, curly-haired woman who could drop just about every curse word she knew like pennies in a mall fountain. She did all kinds of volunteer work for hospitals, animals, and education, and she got her husband out of the house. Sadly, she passed away from a long battle with cancer, and since then, Pop-Pop became adrift in his wave of heartache. He’d flip through photo albums and cook Mrs. Blythe’s favorite recipes when Simon and I visited.

Freddie sat across from him with Chet in the middle and Simon on the end. Simon asked when they got engaged.

Freddie said, “Two days ago when we got out of the theatre on West 45th Street.”

I gave Chet a tight smile. “Wow. That must’ve been expensive.”

Chet’s upper lip bulged as his tongue ran over his teeth. He managed a liquor store back in Pennsylvania. Whenever he came home to Gabrielle, he’d tell her business just wasn’t going well. She paid all the bills and for food, even when they went out together.

Chet waved away the comment. “Pa helped with the tickets.”
I looked at Simon. I could tell he caught on too by the way he frowned. “Pop went with you?”

“No,” Pop-Pop said, buttering a piece of garlic bread, “but Chet always talked about taking Gabby to the theatre, so I gave him a couple bucks.”

Simon glared at Chet. Chet scowled at Pop-Pop. Pop-Pop said that when he heard Chet was proposing, he was glad to help.

“I only wish that was me again.” Pop-Pop gazed upward and raised his glass of wine to the ceiling.

“Pa,” Chet wrapped an arm around Freddie. “This is Freddie.”

“I know,” Pop-Pop said with an innocent smile and bite of his bread, and it tickled me ever so slightly to know how much this annoyed Chet.

He kissed Freddie’s hair. “Sorry, babe.”

The waiter came and took our orders. Pop-Pop ordered Scungilli, his wife’s favorite dish, and a glass of wine for the seat next to him. Freddie looked searchingly at Chet who rolled his eyes. Simon nodded to the waiter. He returned about 30 minutes later with the food. The plate of Scungilli steamed like an offering to a pristine shrine of silverware.

All throughout dinner was stiff-necked and fractured conversations. Chet said he and Freddie dated on and off back in school, and he told high school stories about her. She’d blush and explain herself.

Chet said, squeezing Freddie’s waist, “I’d just never stopped thinking about her.”

Freddie smiled. My stomach simmered; even my baby was sick.

I watched as Freddie tore her garlic bread with the flat of her fingertips, keeping her manicure clear of crumbs, and pursed her lips when she chewed. Chet gave her cat-like smirks and pinched her thigh. Pop-Pop seemed oblivious. Simon smiled awkwardly. I finally had to go to the bathroom.

I staggered down the crooked aisle of wooden chairs and tables to the ladies’ room. I didn’t vomit, thank God. I went into a stall, peed, and cradled my stomach. I thought of what Chet did to Gabrielle and how I had what Gabrielle wanted most—a baby. I held back frustrated sobs and imagined constricting my fingers around Chet’s throat. Then when he was on life support, I’d turn it off and on like a light switch.

There was a knock on the stall.

“Bernie, sweetie?” Freddie called. “You okay?”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine, just pregnant.” I flushed the toilet and went to wash my hands. Freddie reapplied some mascara and watched me.

“I actually wanted to talk to you,” she said as I turned off the water. “Chet told me you were friends with his ex.”

My nostrils flared. I’d known Gabrielle since elementary school. We carpooled to dance every year, attended summer camps together, drove to the local diner every day in college for milkshakes or cocoa—she was the sister I never had.

“Still am,” I snapped. “She’s not dead you know.”

“Of course not,” Freddie said. “I just really hope my relationship with Chet doesn’t affect your opinion of me.”

Freddie rested her hands on her hips. She explained that when she moved back to Pennsylvania, she and Chet reconnected. He was still married but said he was getting a divorce, but Freddie said no.

“Then when he was single again, I didn’t want to say no,” she said. “But I swear, I never intended to ruin a marriage. I just don’t want you and Simon to have a bad opinion of me because I’m not that kind of woman. I waited until after the divorce.”

Freddie stopped there, waiting for a response. I looked down at my belly. Throughout dinner, I had looked for any excuse to hate Freddie: the tight skirt? It was tasteful. The Michael Kors? Maybe she earned it.

I tried to think of what she had that Gabrielle didn’t and decided that Gabrielle was too good for Chet, but then where did that leave Freddie?

I could smell a mixture of fragrances from Freddie—her lotion, her deodorant, her fruity perfume, and even her hairspray. My baby nudged my stomach. I glanced up and saw the sweat spreading under her arms. I sighed. Imagine the guts it took for her to clear her name, and besides, it wasn’t her fault Chet was an asshole.

“We’d love to have you over for Christmas,” I finally said as gently as I could.

Freddie smiled and nearly pounced on me. I flinched away.
“The baby.” Freddie apologized and giddily stroked the mound as if it were a pet we suddenly shared.

We weaved our way back to the table. The plates were gone and paper bags remained. Simon and Chet flipped through their wallets as Pop-Pop signed the check.

“I’m out of cash for the tip,” Chet said. He leaned forward. “You think you can cover me, Pa, and I’ll pay you back?”

Simon quickly put his hands over Pop-Pop’s. “I got it. Chet can pay me back.”

“Nah, hang on,” Chet said. He glanced at Freddie. “Can you cover me, babe?”

I frowned. Freddie began to rummage through her purse, and Chet smiled and leaned back in his seat.

And there it was—another Gabrielle.

I suddenly felt a thick, bubbling sauce rising to my throat from my cringing baby. My head burned. I reached for my water to cool down, but I snatched something stronger—Mrs. Blythe’s untouched glass of wine—and I splashed it into Chet’s face.

The violet-red drops dribbled down his shirt. Chet cursed. Freddie cried out. Mr. Blythe exploded into crackling laughter.

“What the hell was that?” Freddie cried.

I twisted the cup in my hands and said, “Trust me when I say a good girl like you can do much better than Chet.”

Freddie scurried after Chet but couldn’t enter the men’s room. My husband sighed and got up to check on him. Pop-Pop just cackled to himself and grabbed the bag with Mrs. Blythe’s Scuingilli and a bottle of her favorite wine.

“Here, Bernie,” he said. “This is for you.”

Thanksgiving

My uncle’s brother’s sister constructs
a crusty meatball sub.
My husky brother Henry puts
mayonnaise in the rub.
My mom is always screaming for
the country music’s end
and our pushy Mormon neighbors
are just around the bend.
My cat keeps shoving
fur balls down the venetian blinds
while we’re sitting by the fire
that smolders our behinds.
Scribbling this down on
a wet November day,
I think that you should know
this is my favorite holiday!

See Jane Run

Mother complains about slaving over the hot stove while Daughter, who did all the work, is seen, through the skylight, smoking on the rooftop. Stepfather lounges on the stiff, uncomfortable, and yet “oh-so-posh” couch in the living room, complaining about providing a roof over the heads of such ungrateful sacks of worthlessness who don’t know the value of a dollar. Nine-year old Son locks himself in his room and cries until it is time to don a mask of happiness.

Grandmother arrives first, twelve minutes early. Twelve minutes too early for Mother to bear.  With half-finished hair and a bare, makeup-less face, Mother yells for Daughter to entertain Grandmother while cursing under her breath about the meaning of six o’ clock. The others arrive shortly thereafter and, with this, the serenity fades. The calm before the storm is an exchange of cordial greetings and pretentious kisses bestowed upon both cheeks. Daughter wrings her hands with anticipation and sneaks shots of grey goose poison when she thinks no one is looking.

Dinner is served, and mother makes a show of praying before the meal.  Daughter rolls her eyes and spears a stalk of cauliflower, blander than the dinner conversation. She catches Mother’s critical glare and drops the silverware, suddenly gaining resolve not to eat this night.

Then the tornado of questions takes wind. Grandmother addresses Daughter, “Have you been to church recently?” Mother interrupts, and with great disappointment says, “I do believe I somehow managed to raise an atheist.” Uncle asks Son, “How is school going? Getting good grades like your sister?” Stepfather mocks his son’s learning disability and his need for ADHD medication. The topic of Daughter’s antidepressants is avoided. She sighs in annoyance and Aunt directs her attention to her, saying, “You know I’ve already lost forty-seven pounds from my new water and fresh greens diet. You should really try it sometime. It would do wonders for a girl like you.” Daughter maintains a white-knuckle grip on the sterling silver fork that has yet to touch her mouth. Uncle broaches the subject of Daughter’s studies and her plans for the future.  Mother immediately assumes control of the conversation and says, “Oh she’s studying English; my daughter the English major. Good luck finding a job or earning an income.”  Stepfather sheds his cloak of silence and tells Daughter, “I assure you that you will have no home with us after graduation; that is, if you even graduate at all.” Mother and Stepfather join in laughter.

Uncle has heard enough and rises from his chair with a ferocity of which the family did not think him capable. He chastises Mother and Stepfather for their behavior towards their children. Mother claims Uncle wouldn’t understand since he has no children. Mother says she doesn’t blame him; she knows it would be difficult to raise them with Uncle’s disability. The mention of his handicap infuriates him and he shouts, “Fuck you, Debra! Fuck you.” Aunt sips her water. Stepfather appears aloof. Mother, who cannot fathom her perfect family dinner being soiled, demands that Uncle leave. She says, “You’re not welcome here, Jim. Go to hell. You’re dead to me already.”

Fed up with the evening and protective of her uncle, Daughter rises from her seat, knocking down her chair as her full plate of food rattles against the table. She addresses Mother, “He can’t go to hell because you and your ego occupy the entire vicinity!” Aunt chokes on her water and Stepfather checks his Rolex. Son fights back tears as he stares intently at his untouched food.

Daughter storms out of the room. The jovial holiday music is drowned out by the slamming of the front door followed by a screech of tires and the echo of Son’s footsteps as he retreats to the safety of his bedroom. Mother pretends nothing has happened and asks, “Dessert, anyone?”

My Baby Cousin as Wonder Bread

They carry him in like an average grocery,
this flailing loaf in a white jumper
with red/yellow/blue polka dots.
Must be more than mere coincidence

he eats only the marshmallow topping
of the sweet-potato casserole. Heaven
forbid he try something dark, but
for him it’s just white meat,

Saltine crackers, and mashed potatoes.
If I carve him will I find any stuffing
inside? The same refined fluffing which
comprises me, and the rest of the family?

Or do appearances deceive? Maybe there is
something exotic below the golden crust
surface. All I know is that
for a multi-cultural kid,

he sure is awful
bland. I’m sort of
surprised my racist grandfather
hasn’t taken more
of a liking to him.